- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognizes Wyoming is a significant producer of both coal and electricity and that proposed federal limits on greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants need to work for the state, a top EPA official said Tuesday.

Wyoming officials have been critical of the proposed rules since the EPA announced them last June. Joseph Goffman, EPA associate assistant administrator for climate, spoke to the winter meeting of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority about where the process is headed next.

He offered little specific reassurance about how Wyoming could comply, however.

“Our thinking is very fluid on this point,” he said when asked about how the rules as proposed could penalize Wyoming as a net exporter of electricity generated primarily in coal-fired power plants.

Goffman played a significant role in drafting the proposed rules, which by 2030 seek a nationwide 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from power plants compared to 2005 levels. The final rules are scheduled for release this summer.

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, Wyoming Public Service Commission and governor’s office all submitted useful comments to the EPA on the proposal, Goffman said.

“We have a very deep understanding of the pivotal role that Wyoming, as a producer of coal and a producer of electricity generation, plays for this entire region of the country,” he said. “Wyoming is the swing producer, so we have to make this program work for Wyoming if we’re going to make it work across the region.”

As the supplier of about 40 percent of the nation’s coal, Wyoming has a huge stake in how the rules will turn out. Coal-fired power plants are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide yet their continued viability is critical to the state’s economy.

Wyoming also is a major regional supplier of electricity relative to its small population of 583,000. Two-thirds of the electricity produced in Wyoming goes to other states and almost 90 percent of that electricity is coal-fired - a fact Wyoming officials say could disproportionately penalize Wyoming.

Meanwhile, other states, such as California, could get credit for using Wyoming-generated wind power. Asked about that discrepancy in the rules by David Wendt, president of the Jackson Hole Center for Global Affairs think tank, Goffman said EPA is aware of it.

“I think the problem we’re talking about is very well characterized by commenters,” he said.

He suggested states in a region could work together meet their carbon emissions requirements.

“At the end of the day, we only have one agenda, that’s to come up with a workable program,” Goffman said. “Not a program that’s workable for a computer model, but a program that’s workable for all the folks that have to also make the electricity system continue to work.”

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